Healthy parenting is the ultimate group project. That includes all parents; highly educated, financially secure, mature, teenage, married, single, same sex, male or female. As cliché as it has become, it really does take a village to raise a child. Today’s world is complex and chaotic with so many outside, often negative, influences impacting the lives of children and parents daily and constantly.

No matter how well prepared we think we are for the arrival of a child, it doesn’t hit home until we walk through the front door with a tiny human being in our arms who is 100 percent dependent on us for every single thing. The awesomeness of the responsibility that we’ve just committed to for the rest of our lives is overwhelming and frightening. How can we possibly be prepared to provide everything our children need to grow physically, mentally, socially strong and healthy?

The first thing parents have to do is work up the courage to realize that they can’t do this alone. All parents need help sometimes. Too often asking for help is viewed as a weakness, especially for Americans, who cherish independence and take great pride in how well they can care for themselves and their families all on our own.  But when it comes to healthy parenting, just the opposite is true. Getting the help you need can make you a better parent.

Once you’ve made the wise decision to seek support, where do you begin? A generation ago this was much easier. It seemed an extra helping hand was always available. Grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins often lived close by and were a part of daily family life.

And then there were your neighbors. Talk to most people over the age of 50 and they’re likely to tell you how nearly everyone on the block took responsibility for watching over the children. Neighbors let you know if they saw you do something wrong, and they were also there with advice and comfort if they noticed you were struggling with a problem.

But slowly things have changed over time. More and more grown children move away from home, often relocating to different states and even countries. While it used to be the norm for extended families to shop for each other, babysit, and have Sunday dinners together; now because of long distances, work responsibilities, and school schedules, it not uncommon for relatives to go years without seeing each other. Gone are close-knit neighborhoods, too. Most people don’t even know their neighbors’ names and are afraid to reach out to the children for fear their intentions might be misinterpreted.

It’s not as easy as it was before when all you had to do was walk out your front door for support, but it’s not impossible either. And it’s well worth the effort and commitment. Once you start going, you’ll find lots of other parents eager to join with you.

How to build your parenting support network

  • Don’t be afraid to make the first move. Tell a friend, relative, or co-worker about your idea. You’ll be surprised how many others are looking for the same thing. Ask them to help. It will make the job much easier and more fun.
  • Ask each new person to invite someone they know to join.
  • Consider holding bi-weekly or monthly parenting discussion groups at a playground, coffee shop, or alternate between members’ homes. Some community centers, libraries, and even commercial establishments such as food markets provide space for small groups to meet.
  • Hold a book club with a parenting theme.
  • Print a parent support directory listing members’ email addresses and phone numbers. That way there’s always someone to call when seeking advice or just needing to talk.
  • Have a walking group for new parents. Pushing a stroller really builds muscles and gives parents a chance to get a workout and talk with other grownups all at the same time.
  • Don’t limit the group to child-focused activities. Even the most dedicated parents need time off from parenting. Plan an adults only trip to a movie, restaurant, night school class, or concert.

Most important, be creative. This list is only a beginning, just a starting point. Let your group activities reflect the needs and interests of its members. You may not want to limit the group to a specific demographic. Consider inviting parents of all ages including those with grown children. And don’t forget about grandparents. Remember many of them are also living far away from their children and grandchildren and would love to participate. The more diverse the group, the stronger the support network, the richer the resources. Sounds familiar – just like our neighborhoods were a generation ago.